Saturday, July 31, 2010

L 1.4

In a disagreement with another Christian, Loftus recounts on p. 30 that “The interesting thing is that both sides claimed that they were motivated by love. We all had our bible verses to back it up too!”

When one set of verses are stressed to the exclusion of others, the case being made isn't substantiated. Just as important as the number of verses considered is the interpretation of the verses. Sometimes, the interpretation can be the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law or not in keeping with the meaning of other verses. A good example is accusing Jesus of advocating cannibalism when He said "eat my flesh and drink my blood". An evaluation of Jesus' character from the rest of the accounts clearly shows that He would never approve of cannibalism.

In the end, this is an attempt by Loftus to show that the Bible is at least confusing and at most, contradictory. It is a very common misconception that the Bible is internally inconsistent or in other words, contradictory. Those allegations have been answered many, many times over by scores of people in books and on the internet. To continue to perpetuate the misconception is to be plainly obstinate.

Non-Christians often state that the responses to criticisms of Christianity are little more than verbal gymnastics to salvage a flawed book. Christians typically respond that the objections themselves are exercises in linguistic obfuscation, that they are examples of deceitful, manufactured contradictions. These alleged contradictions require violating one of the two principles mentioned earlier; only considering an inappropriately small number of verses or revising the interpretation of verses. The data itself (the text of the Bible), isn’t the heart of the issue. The conclusion(s) drawn from the alleged contradiction is in question. Once again, the issue becomes one of worldview. People will twist the facts to fit their worldview. It has already been established in this forum that theism has an advantage over nontheism in that the non-existence of God can’t be proven. Therefore, nontheism is incomplete and the original objection is ultimately baseless.

Friday, July 30, 2010

L 1.3

Loftus makes the statement that after encountering objections to Christianity, “It required too much intellectual gerrymandering to believe”. Another very interesting statement shows up on p. 31 that “If anyone wants to discount my deconversion and present rejection of Christianity because of my experiences, then I could discount the overwhelming number of Christian conversion experiences”.

Loftus takes the time to refer to people who have left the faith as examples of the first statement referred to. Why is there no discussion on people who have come to faith from atheism (Lee Strobel, C. S. Lewis, Josh Mcdowell)? Those people feel like non-theism requires too much intellectual gerrymandering to believe. So, who is right?

Interestingly enough, he puts both beliefs on equal ground with the second statement referred to. In an important sense, he is right to do so. There are cases that support Christian belief and there are cases that undermine Christianity. This is an issue of worldview. The disciple of Christ has God as their ultimate authority is going to find the cases for Christianity and the responses to objections to Christianity as intellectually gratifying. Obviously, the non-theist is going to intellectually side with objections to Christianity. Ultimately, the data being cited by either side isn’t in question. The conclusions being drawn from the data are in question. Why does a person choose one worldview over another? Why does a person decide theism over non-theism or the reverse? Both groups of people are saying they “followed the evidence”. Clearly, they both can’t be right in that assessment because the two positions are mutually exclusive.

If a person chooses to make God the ultimate authority in their life, there is plenty of evidence to support that belief. Conversely, no person can substantiate that God does not exist. It would require infinite knowledge which no person can possesses. Therefore, non-theism is incomplete as a belief system.

In regards to agnosticism, God has revealed Himself to us in many instances through general revelation and special revelation. There is no reason to say we can’t know God. An agnostic choosing to make no statement either way hasn’t made the problem disappear.

In summary, the evidence for or against a worldview isn't paramount. The conclusions a person draws from the evidence is the issue. Those conclusions reflect the state of the heart of the individual. Christians can support their beliefs through God as the ultimate authority whereas nontheists can't prove that God does not exist. Therefore, conclusions for nontheism or against theism can't be supported because of that monumental gap in the nontheist worldview.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

L 1.2

On p. 26, Loftus asks an insightful question. He wonders “Why God tested me…if He knew in advance I would fail the test”. Similarly, he asks on p. 31 “Why didn’t God do something to avert these particular [deconversion] experiences of mine, especially if He could foreknow that I would eventually write this book and lead others astray?”

Both are examples of attempting to show that God is either impotent to stop rejection of Him or doesn’t desire that everyone believe in Him thus making Him immoral. The issue with these critiques becomes apparent when they are worked out fully to their logical conclusion.

The first statement is predicated on us never failing a test. Loftus is asking for God, since He is omniscient, to test us in ways that could only end in successful resolution. Knowing failure is a crucial part of our existence. If we only succeeded every time we were tested, we would be robbed of a profound means of gaining knowledge. In fact, educators frequently call those moments of failure “teachable moments”. It is at those times that we are most malleable. To wish otherwise is essentially to assert that the critic occupies an omniscient vantage point and would have created a better universe than the one we currently experience. Thus, everyone would pass each test of faith and never have a reason to not believe in God. However, no person can substantiate such a statement because they can’t guarantee that the people who are spared the experience of unsuccessful trials would be better off psychologically. At most, it’s speculative. Since we’re obviously not omniscient and can’t deliver on such speculation, the criticism carries no real weight.

The second thought is along the same lines as the first in that Loftus wonders why God does not guarantee success in regards to our belief in Him. Loftus is basically wondering why God has allowed people to write information that rejects His existence and could potentially lead people astray. Reading that type of information is a kind of a test for people. If God didn’t allow our beliefs to be tested, they wouldn’t have any real meaning in our lives. God would again be robbing us, this time of freedom via spiritual choices. If all the spiritual information that exists is homogenously pro God, we wouldn’t really have spiritual freedom. If we don’t have spiritual freedom, we’re essentially coerced and our belief is practically meaningless.

I said in the previous post that relationships ebb and flow. Essentially, our entire life is one big test composed of many smaller tests in which we move to and from God. If that weren’t the case, if we were spared failure or tests of faith, our lives would be incredibly dull and vacuous.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

L 1.1

On p. 22. of Why I Became An Atheist, Loftus asks “At what point can someone say she can make an informed decision about the Christian faith?” Similarly, on p. 29 he states that he “began to ask whether it’s possible to have a correct understanding of the Bible if people as close to each other as he and I had such a misunderstanding.”

These quotes are paramount because they are substantial to his method for rejecting Christianity. They indicate his mindset and impetus for developing the rest of the book that follows after the first chapter. It is critical in the context of this book to understand that Christianity literally is a relationship with Jesus Christ. To answer the first question, the point at which a person can make an informed decision is when they realize that Jesus loves them and they accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. That’s it. Everything that occurs afterward indicates the state of the relationship at that time. Relationships wax and wane, ebb and flow, crest and trough. People are closer to each other when they put effort into the relationship, reciprocate and prioritize each other’s needs. A relationship with God is very similar. Even if you are a Calvinist, you have a choice to put effort into a relationship with God or let the relationship deteriorate. Loftus implies with the two quotes I cited and throughout the first chapter that having a correct understanding of the Bible and making an informed decision is the crux of Christianity. Knowledge is fantastic and a great aid to us in many ways. Despite that, it remains just one aspect of Christianity and Christian apologists often acknowledge that intellectual information is not what transforms lives. Genuine prayer, fellowship, service and worship are other factors that figure prominently in a relationship with Christ. Knowledge can serve to strengthen faith but, Loftus in the first chapter turns to it almost exclusively. Indeed, the rest of the book consists of intellectual objections to Christianity.

At this point, a non-Christian could certainly say that observing a Christian is the best test for discerning what Christianity looks like. In doing so, do Christians have adequate knowledge to make an informed decision and conclude that Christianity is the best representation of truth? The caveat of that method is that it is incredibly difficult to judge a relationship unless you are the one in the relationship. If this weren’t the case, there would be no need for counselors and psychologists. A relationship would be nothing more than a prescribed set of actions for each person to perform. In reality, we know that relationships are much more complex than that. Therefore, to assess someone’s knowledge and then pronounce that their lack thereof indicates they aren’t intellectually equipped to make an informed decision about a relationship with God, as Loftus stresses, is to commit a philosophical category mistake. It’s akin to the color of hot or the taste of joy. We all know that intellect and information do not drive our relationships. Relationships are too complex to rely so heavily on knowledge to establish the legitimacy of a relationship with God. It seems to me after reading the first chapter that Loftus stressed intellect in his relationship instead of the kinds of relationship building interactions I mentioned earlier. Basically, he put the cart before the horse.

It’s difficult to judge the authenticity and desirability of a relationship by assessing the knowledge of the person in the relationship. Even relationship counselors sometimes have failed relationships because both parties didn’t invest in the relationship to the extent of their abilities, despite one of the two being an expert in relationships. The success of a relationship isn’t dependent on how much knowledge is possessed. Success is based on how much each person invests in the relationship over time; the longer the better. Naturally, former Christians often say that they vigorously pursued a relationship with God for years but, once they learned the intellectual objections to Christianity, they couldn’t maintain their faith. The problem with this statement is that it is guilty of the same misunderstanding of relationships outlined earlier. There is an outcome of science called reductionism. The conclusion is that we are basically the product of our genes and determined circumstances. In other words, we are not free. Based on the physical unfolding of the universe, we are predetermined to meet a certain person at a certain time and our genes dictate that we are attracted to them. According to reductionism, love is an illusion. It’s just a blind combination of inorganic and biological circumstances. Despite this, people continue to pursue relationships and “fall in love”. That’s because we know that the knowledge in question can’t account for our feelings. A relationship with God is much the same. It requires that we genuinely invest in it especially since there has never been an intellectual objection to Christianity that has gone unanswered.

Additionally, he states on pp. 27-30 “I did find people who told me that God loves me and that Jesus is the one person who could help me through troubled waters. So it seemed natural that when I was a troubled juvenile, I would reach out to the God of the Bible and find the meaning of these Bible stories for my life”. Even in this statement, it seems he is looking for what he can get out of the relationship as opposed to what he can invest in it. Regardless, notice how different the purpose in this statement is to rest of the book (intellectual objections to biblical miracles, the creation account in Genesis, the reliability of the Bible, etc.). He says “Jesus is the one person who could help me through troubled waters” but throughout pages 20-33, he chronicles several conflicts with fellow Christians. There is no mention of relationship with Jesus in this section. During these episodes, he seems to have turned away from the relationship he might have had at one time. Only John Loftus can look back on his life and say that he genuinely had a relationship with Jesus in the time period he records. It just seems from what he writes that he didn’t. Unfortunately, that’s not all. He furthermore sanctions intellect as what should be the concluding force in a relationship-oriented issue.

Of course, the non-Christian is going to attempt to preempt all this by saying that it takes intellect to even determine whether or not Jesus lived and died for us, whether or not God was with the Hebrews in the OT, whether or not the Bible has been faithfully recorded and handed down throughout the ages. In other words, it takes intellect to know whether Christianity is true or not for us to even consider it a basis for a relationship with Jesus. To the non-Christian, religion is just a spiritual placebo and there is no real supernatural truth. This objection seems to have great force to it and indeed many non-Christians bank their spiritual eternality on it. Consequently, Christian explanations that clarify all the false accusations and misconceptions that have ever been raised against Christianity get blithely rejected because of that kind of thinking. In the end, these Christian responses reasonably show that Christianity is based on truth as best we can understand truth. For the person who has established God as their ultimate authority, the responses to objections to Christianity are sufficiently explanatory.

In summary, it just doesn't seem like Loftus ever had a relationship with God to begin with and that his motivation was suspect. From the first chapter, there seems to be none of the elements that make up a Christ follower's life; service to others in the name of Christ, joy, fellowship, etc.

the beginning

A former preacher named John Loftus writes about his deconversion from Christianity in a book called Why I Became an Atheist. He has challenged Christians to read and attempt to critique his book. I am going to post my thoughts on the book which is a referendum on many philosophical and spiritual topics. I hope this is informative.